Anne LaFrance’s life has taken many turns, but Mercy has been there all along the way.
As a high school student at St. Francis Xavier Academy in Providence, Rhode Island, Anne remembers being struck by the sisters’ generous displays of kindness. “They were wonderful to me. They reached out to me,” she recalls.
After graduating from high school and declining three marriage proposals, Anne felt a call to religious life. Her parents discouraged her from pursuing her vocation, so Anne took a year to discern. “I think I was pressuring God to prove to me that He wanted me as much as I wanted Him,” Anne says.
Heeding God’s call, Anne entered the Sisters of Mercy in 1957 at Mount St. Rita in Cumberland, Rhode Island. She began her ministry in education at St. Maria Goretti Grade School in nearby Pawtucket. On Wednesdays, classes ended early so that students from economically poor neighborhoods could come to the school for instruction. Anne would bring food for the students to take home. In her next role, Anne taught home economics and English and worked as food services director at Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro, Massachusetts. She helped feed 250 people every school day for five years.
Determined to continue her own education during her summers off, Anne received funding to attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue a master’s degree in biology, chemistry and physics. She was one of the few white students at the historically Black college and wore the full habit of the Sisters of Mercy.
Anne would often organize study groups at a local park. Nashville had only recently been desegregated, so her student gatherings were very unusual. “I dispelled a lot of untruths about Catholicism. I even joined students at the Baptist church and they reciprocated and came to the Catholic church with me,” says Anne.
Because her sister was very ill, Anne asked for a leave of absence from the Sisters of Mercy in 1962. Her request was denied, so she left the convent. Next, Anne began her career as a lay teacher at Lincoln High School teaching math and science, until her retirement in 1994.
Anne kept a watchful eye over her sister who continued to experience health problems. While visiting her sister in a hospital on Cape Cod, Anne reunited with a former high school classmate, Sister Shirley Agnew, who was serving as the hospital’s chaplain. Sister Shirley encouraged Anne’s sister to return to Catholicism. In gratitude, Anne gave Sister Shirley a bike to help her travel to and from her mission work.
Anne’s acts of kindness continue. On her 80th birthday, she began a tradition of asking her friends to donate to charities in lieu of buying gifts or taking her out to dinner. Her generosity extends to the Sisters of Mercy who she supports both financially and spiritually.
“I pray every day that in some way or other the works of Mercy will continue,” Anne said.